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How to Score the Best Deals on Back to School Shopping

With August having started and summer quickly coming to a close, the school season is rapidly approaching. While you may have left over supplies from the previous school year, each teacher inevitably requires either more items or more expensive items, making the end of summer a financial hit only second to the holidays. With careful planning and dedication to that plan, your budget does not have to undergo an entire revamp just to make sure the young ones have a calculator.

Make a Plan

Starting now, decide how much you can realistically spend, both the maximum and minimum, without upsetting your current financial situation. Next, make a list of every item requested by the teacher, including books and other specialty items. If you have not yet received the list, put together your own list, comprised of what you are expecting to buy based on previous school years. Be sure to include a column for quantity, estimated cost and actual cost.
Once the spreadsheet has been created, fill out the estimated cost for each item. Total that and see where it falls in your planned budget to let you know if you’ll need to adjust. Next, do some research. Websites across the internet host back-to-school sales and all are trying to beat one another out with the best prices. Some are strictly online while others list the in store prices. There are even places that provide free shipping (which would save you both time and gas money while getting to avoid the other frazzled moms in checkout lines).
Now that the actual prices are listed, see if there is any money left over. While this can be great for saving, take into account the items that are used every year, like backpacks. While cheap backpacks maybe be cost effective now, they are not in the long run because the fall apart after one year, forcing you to waste more money continually buying new ones. Lunch boxes are very similar. The more permanent items you can invest in now, the less you will spend overall. If that is not the case, take the extra money and either put it toward the household budget or put it in savings.
Finally, do not forget tax. There is nothing more detrimental to planning a budget than not factoring in the additional fees.

Start Early and Shop Smart

Nothing is better for the wallet than starting early. Like plane tickets, it pays to begin watching prices now as it gives you time to shop around without any pressure, checking deals against one another. More time also saves you from the hassle of fighting another mom for the last pencil sharpener or running to the bookstore at 11pm the night before the first day of school because you accidentally skipped over one item on the list. No matter what is needed, starting early provides you with a wider selection as stores are not sold out of sale items, a situation that would then force you to go over budget.

Teach the Children

One can never be too young to learn how to budget. Since schools generally do not teach how to perform such an important task of running a household, it is up to you to help the kids learn about the best ways to maintain and practice following a budget. Have younger children help you write out their list of items or cut out newspaper coupons. If the children are older, ask them to research prices. This instills in them the reality of how to properly manage money in a responsible fashion. When you do go to the store, discuss need versus want with them in regards to what they are getting for school. If they want the expensive set of pens, have them recalculate their budget to provide a tangible demonstration that they will no longer have as much to spend on everything else. This is likewise a great chance to teach them the importance of discerning what is worth spending more money on versus what is not.


Back-to-school shopping does not have to be through the mega-corporations. There are so many other ways to stock up on supplies that most people have. Hold a neighborhood get together where the parents bring in books, items or clothes to be traded with other families for school supplies. This way, nothing is thrown away that can be used by a different child. Go on a scavenger hunt around the house and dig up anything that is on the school list. Many things like paper, pencils and sharpeners are reusable. One of the best ways to stay within budget is not spending money on something that you already own.
If online is the preferred route, as mentioned before, order enough for free shipping. Things that are used up quickly, like paper, pens and pencils, can be ordered in bulk for much cheaper pricing. The bulk order might also be so big that it lasts will until the next year. Furthermore, check around craigslist or eBay. Many students and parents sell what they don’t need for cheap. If the child is in need of the legendary TI-83, eBay or craigslist may have one, keeping you from having to spend $100.

Learn and Grow

With school taking up the better part of a child’s life, back-to-school shopping happens like clockwork, and there is no reason not to turn it into an annual family holiday. Keep the budget lists saved and review them each year, tracking how much is spent and how much should be expected to be spent. This will become much easier with more years of school budgets to compare. Moreover, make notes on these sheets about the best places with the best deals, what worked, what didn’t work and what was decided to make the next year even easier. To involve the kids, show them the amount of money that was saved and the best choices on how to allocate what was not spent to better serve everyone in the future.
By doing this every year, you will save a lot of money and avoid an enormous amount of stress. It emphasizes how important sticking to a budget is, teaching the children through actual examples and transforming them into money conscious individuals who will be ready to budget their own finances when they are older.

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Alice Bryant's picture

Alice Bryant is the Editor of Creditnet and a personal finance expert with over a decade of experience writing about credit cards, credit scores, debt repair, and more.

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